We don’t really know whether or to what extent extension talks will continue during the coronavirus hiatus. But as I wrote recently, it seems reasonable to think they’ll be explored. Some may already have advanced nearly to completion before the global pandemic intervened.
While we may have to wait to learn who the targets are and see what deals get done, there’s a silver lining: more time for rampant speculation! Okay, we’re not going to speculate here; rather, we’ll tick through some interesting possibilities on paper. Remember, we’ve seen an increasing prevalence of deals with less-experienced players (even some without any MLB service) and with new player types (early-career relievers and utilitymen).
In the present MLB environment, value is king and the old forms are fading. We’ve already checked in on the NL East, NL Central, NL West, and AL East. Here are some possible extension candidates from the AL West …
It seems the Halos have some level of interest in trying to keep peerless defensive shortstop Andrelton Simmons from reaching the open market. He’d be quite an interesting player to value after a down, injury-filled year. If he can continue producing otherworldly defensive work in 2020 while returning to league-average hitting, he’d be a fascinating player to watch in free agency.
There are a few other guys nearing free agency that could be considered. Tommy La Stella had a breakout in an injury-shortened 2019 season. He’s already 31 and there’ll be questions about sustainability. But perhaps the sides could share the risk and upside with a relatively modest accord. Reliever Hansel Robles and starter Andrew Heaney are both two years from free agency, though there’s no particular reason to rush into a commitment in either case.
Things get quite a bit more interesting when you look at players much further from the open market. Shohei Ohtani put a ton of faith in himself when he came to the majors for a pittance of a bonus. His two-way ability and near-limitless upside on the mound make him a highly intriguing extension candidate, though sorting out a fair value won’t be straightforward. There’s a clear map for a deal for elite outfield prospect Jo Adell, if both sides are interested, as the White Sox have reached successive pre-debut pacts with Eloy Jimenez ($43MM) and Luis Robert ($50MM). Beyond Ohtani and Adell, the Angels could consider much more modest pacts with utilityman David Fletcher and/or reliever Ty Buttrey.
There’s an abundance of star power to contemplate for a Houston organization in turmoil. Most pressing: outfielder George Springer, who’s entering his final year of arbitration. This is the final window to get a deal done; whether that’s a realistic possibility isn’t known. Not far behind him is shortstop Carlos Correa, who is two years from the open market. His huge ceiling and more modest recent play make this a suboptimal time to work out a deal, unless both sides are in the mood for compromise.
The ’Stros have a pair of slugging young left-handed hitters that could conceivably be candidates for aggressive early extensions. Yordan Alvarez burst onto the scene last year, but he has had a balky knee this spring and is mostly viewed as a DH. Meanwhile, Kyle Tucker is a surefire big leaguer with star upside, but he’s rather less established. On the pitching side, the Astros could potentially chase value by holding talks with Jose Urquidy, Josh James, or even Bryan Abreu. It may be early in all of those cases, but this organization did reach a then-unprecedented deal with Jon Singleton.
The Oakland org has a bunch of candidates that leap off of the page in just about every service class. After a monster 2019 season, shortstop Marcus Semien is slated to reach free agency at the end of 2020. It would probably take a franchise-record deal to keep him from testing the market. Perhaps there’s more room to work out a palatable price tag with reliever Liam Hendriks, who has emerged as one of the game’s most effective relievers since being designated for assignment and then called back up late in the 2018 season. Outfielder Mark Canha had his own recent breakout; perhaps he’s also a candidate with two years left until free agency.
What the A’s really hoped for was a pair of long-term pacts with corner infielders Matt Chapman and Matt Olson. But both were not wooed by prior efforts and they’re both now within a season of arbitration. There is certainly still a window, but the Oakland organization will really have to open the wallet. Striking major pacts with either or both (not to mention Semien) would mark a big vote of confidence in the team’s plans for a new ballpark.
Further down the line in terms of service class are a host of intriguing candidates. Outfielder Ramon Laureano, catcher Sean Murphy, and prized southpaws Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk all carry eyebrow-raising talent. They’re also already controlled for quite some time. But this may be the optimal point for the A’s to achieve big value with a few of those players.
Having already inked lefty Marco Gonzales and pre-MLB first baseman Evan White, the M’s have already accounted for their most obvious candidates. And the best of the rest aren’t likely in consideration this winter. Mitch Haniger still needs to get back to full health; top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez are probably a bit too green for even an aggressive deal.
But there are a few more to consider. Shed Long and J.P. Crawford each had solid showings last year and could make sense at the right price. Perhaps the Mariners could even consider less-experienced outfielders Kyle Lewis and Jake Fraley, though that’d make for a surprise in either case. It’s frankly difficult even to suggest another candidate; reliever Austin Adams could’ve been of some interest but he’s rehabbing a major knee injury.
You could make a case for a few guys here. Young slugger Willie Calhoun might be a worthwhile target after a strong 2019 showing, though it took the club some time to find him a spot in the majors and he’s now nursing a broken jaw. Veteran starters Mike Minor and Lance Lynn are nearing free agency, with the former entering his walk year, though the Texas org already took on some pitching risk this winter and may not want to over-extend itself with older hurlers.
Really, the Texas extension situation is all about one man: slugging outfielder/first baseman Joey Gallo. The game’s preeminent three-true-outcomes batter, Gallo is in his first of three arbitration-eligible campaigns, so he has entered the big earning stage of his career but hasn’t yet been paid huge money. He was limited by injury (oblique, hamate) in 2019 but put up monster numbers when available, with 22 long balls and a .253/.389/.598 slash over 297 plate appearances. It’s easy to forget that Gallo is a valuable outfield defender and baserunner, making him one of the higher-ceiling all-around players in the game.